Volunteers in Sydney, N.S., are gearing up to welcome as many as 100 government-assisted Syrian refugee families now that the community has been added to the list of places designated to receive them.

Cape Breton already has several community groups organized to sponsor families privately. Government-assisted refugees receive financial support from Citizenship and Immigration Canada for a year or more for accommodations, living costs and other expenses.

Keith Brown is one of hundreds of local volunteers with Lifeline Syria Cape Breton. He's also been working with the provincial immigration minister to help Sydney earn federal approval to accept government-assisted refugees.

Sydney's selection is "a very important recognition that from day one, the community of Cape Breton came together saying we wanted to do something," he told CBC Cape Breton Mainstreet. "And the volunteer mechanism … went into high gear."

Large families

Several months ago, Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Diab said she wanted the province to receive as many as 1,500 government-assisted refugees, in addition to privately-sponsored refugees. 

Halifax, at the time the only designated government-assisted refugee settlement location in Nova Scotia, has already accepted more than 500. 

Brown said it wouldn't be difficult for Cape Breton to accept 500 people in 100 families.

"It's hard to generalize, because we really don't know who our GARs will be," he said.

He said Syrian families with four or five children are large by Cape Breton standards of today, but would be considered of average size a generation or so ago on the island.

Brown said such a large number of people, even if they're strangers to each other, could find their resettlement in Cape Breton a little easier if they can turn to people with similar customs and language. Volunteers are standing by to help.

"The committee said very clearly, 'If we do this, we only want to do this well.' We want to make certain that what we do in Cape Breton is very well done, and when you're a pilot like this, you want to get it right."